Tuesday, October 5, 2010


As I posted here about the undisputed King of the Jungle during his tenure as The Forest Brigand as he was known in his country, in a three state area of India, VEERAPPAN: KING OF THE JUNGLE, VEERAPPAN was as hard to find as vapor during most of his life on the run. It all leads to lots of questions about this character and his story and those who hunted him for decades.

I plan to buy the book about him soon, it's all over the place used in the English language, and according to some online reviews, just might be objective enough in all directions to be an interesting read. Other reviews paint it a bit favoring the law. Here's one blogger's thoughts
and the book is called VEERAPPAN: INDIA'S MOST WANTED MAN BY SUNNAD RAGHURAM. Written before his death, it's not going to contain the end of the story up to the death of VEERAPPAN, so you have to sift through the articles and obits available on the web to try to piece that end of the story together.

By all directions, I mean getting the story from the points of view of himself, the villagers he lived around, his men, the multiple governments that chased him for years and the national government of India. And then being able to look down at that collection of information and see what seems likely to be the truth of the matter, or more likely the multiple truths of the matter. So perhaps you won't get that perspective from one book, no matter how well written, but maybe it will elaborate what's available on the web about this latter day bandit.

And the first question is, where is the good movie, or how about just plain decent movie, made on the story of this guy's life? The story has been out there, and it's a fugitive hunting trail that in real life has only been mirrored by far shorter-lived villians on the run in America: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Scarface, Bonnie and Clyde or any number of international criminals and terrorists.

Being a firearms enthusiast, in looking at various images of VEERAPPAN contained all over Google images and in various news stories about him, mostly I saw him holding either some kind of bolt action heavy calibered carbine variant of probably British hand me down variety, as well as as FN/FAL variant rifles. I'm not knowledgeable at all about the old British bolt action rifles, except to know that many of them, although looking unweildy and very heavy, do look very cool with the full understocks that extend sometimes all the way to the end of the barrel.

The above pictures and those on the previous posts show most of what seems available in terms of pictures of these outlaws. It seems interesting that none are carrying at least knives, not to mention some sort of sidearm being the wanted fellow he was. He's either got a hunting rifle or an assault rifle. The most interesting picture I could find was a collage of pictures of NEERAPPAN and his huge moustache, in one of the images he's holding some sort of submachine gun I don't recognize.

So in any event, some firearms and edged weapons details about this part of the world for the last 50 years or so would make an interesting addition to this history of the King of the Jungle.
This story here at the Times of India says that at the time of his death, he had several grenades, 2 AK-47 rifles, 1 SLR rifle and a "pump-action gun". http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/How-Veerappan-was-shot-dead/articleshow/890783.cms?flstry=1
The AK-47 is everywhere.

And perhaps my British-Italian based fellow weapons blogger ROB might have some knowledge of the guns and knives and handguns of this area and what kind of arms that these folks were fighting with.

Here's an interesting article I found in the HINDUONNET about the search for him before his capture/death. I bolded and reprinted the article to save a jump, but also because it provides some interesting prose of the area's media.

An endless search

The Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police forces continue the hunt for Veerappan even as the Central government withdraws the Border Security Force unit that was assisting in the task.

RAVI SHARMA in M.M. Hills and Kadambur

ALTHOUGH there is little doubt about the intent or intensity of the efforts of the Special Task Forces (STFs) of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka which are after Veerappan, the fact is that they are nowhere near the forest brigand.

All that the police know is that the brigand could be holed up either in the jungles, which have been his home for nearly three decades, or in a safehouse, protected by 'friends'. Informed sources say that Veerappan could be in the vicinity of the Kadambur and Gudialathur forests in Tamil Nadu's Erode district. In fact, Veerappan's intelligence network is superior to that of the police. Two diaries the police recovered in January this year following an encounter with his gang had entries indicating that he knew almost all the "secret" call signs of the police.

The only success that the operations have had in the past nine months on the Tamil Nadu side is the arrest by the 'Q' Branch of the Tamil Nadu police in Thanjavur in September of three members of the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) - Andril, Amritalingam and Selvan. According to the police, the trio were part of the gang led by Veerappan that abducted Kannada film actor Rajkumar and three others in July 2000. The police claimed that both Rajkumar and his brother-in-law Govindaraj (who was also abducted) had identified the trio during the identification parade held in the Coimbatore central prison in September. They also claimed that the trio had admitted their guilt and said that they had come to the forest in an attempt to establish a base jointly with Veerappan.

The Karnataka STF has taken into custody two persons, Basavananaik and Geetha from Hangla village near Bandipura in Karnataka, for interrogation. Basavananaik was initially arrested in September by the Karnataka Forest Department for poaching in the Bandipur National Park. Later he was taken into custody by the Karnataka STF. He is accused of aiding Veerappan in the kidnapping of a scientist, forest personnel and two wildlife photographers from the park in 1997. According to informed sources in the Karnataka STF and the Karnataka Forest Department, Basavananaik has been allegedly supplying foodgrains to Veerappan.

Geetha was arrested from a hamlet near Hangla. It was alleged that she provided information to the Veerappan gang on Rajkumar's movements prior to his abduction in July 2000. Geetha has her relatives living in Gajanur from where Rajkumar was kidnapped. According to informed sources, Geetha confessed that Veerappan had promised her Rs.1 lakh and one acre of land in exchange for information on Rajkumar.

According to informed sources, the Rajkumar abduction was the culmination of a series of crimes committed by the Veerappan gang and the TNLA trio. Their joint operations started in January 2000 with the looting of Rs.16,000 from the farmhouse of K. Subramani of Kanakundur, on the periphery of the Kadambur forest. Later, the gang's attempt to loot the Onnamatti estate in Karnataka failed. The gang stayed at Talawadi for two to three months with the intention of looting the farmhouse of Rajkumar. Later, with the help of a few local people who provided information on Rajkumar's whereabouts, it kidnapped the actor.

IN the first week of October, nearly 600 personnel of the Border Security Force's (BSF) 117 Battalion, requisitioned in December 2000 for operations in the aftermath of the Rajkumar abduction, were withdrawn by the Central government following criticism that it was not doing enough to catch the Veerappan gang. The Centre had sent seven companies of the BSF to assist the STFs in combing operations. The BSF personnel set up camps at Palar and the Malai Mahedeshwara Hills in Karnataka, and at Satyamangalam, Varattup- allam and Gundripallam in Tamil Nadu.

However, the usefulness of the BSF, personnel of which were deployed for the first time between 1993 and 1995, was in question with many of its own officers questioning the need for its deployment. Joint Commander of the STFs and former Tamil Nadu Director-General of Police Walter Issac Dawaram said soon after the BSF was deployed: "It (the deployment of the BSF) is all nonsense, a stunt. There is no need for a big army to catch Veerappan. I don't understand what the BSF can do. They don't even know the language." The exercise soon turned out to be meaningless as the BSF had no mandate to operate independently. It is the second time that the BSF has been withdrawn after prolonged inactivity.

Even as the top brass of the STFs are hopeful of catching the brigand, the operations in recent times have attracted criticism. For instance, sections of the Tamil Nadu STF are criticised for being preoccupied with duties related to the local body elections in October. On the other hand, the Karnataka STF under Inspector-General of Police Kempiah has more or less maintained a low profile. Besides dearth of information, the Karnataka STF is constrained by a lack of political will on the part of the Karnataka government (Tamil Nadu has also been guilty of this) to carry forward operations. The successive governments in Karnataka, including the current one led by S.M. Krishna, have been of the view that Veerappan is a Tamil who operates in Tamil Nadu and so catching him is primarily the business of the Tamil Nadu government.

Indications are that the present team of STF officers, especially of the Tamil Nadu STF (revamped after the Jayalalithaa government took office in May) led by Dawaram, Additional Director-General of Police K. Vijaykumar, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tamil Selvam and Superintendent of Police Periyiah, is arguably the best to have been assembled by the State. All the officers are believers in the 'hands-on theory' and prefer to spend time in the jungles with the troops rather than plan strategy from the confines of an office. Surprisingly, in spite of making little headway in the operations for about 10 months, the morale and motivation of the Tamil Nadu STF's 700-odd personnel are still high. The force has been further strengthened with the arrival of about 200 men from the Tamil Nadu Reserve Police, who will make up the shortfall after the departure of the BSF personnel. According to informed sources in the Tamil Nadu STF, there is good coordination between the two STFs, and the one-upmanship which plagued the operations when Dawaram was previously at the helm of affairs in the early 1990s has been under check.

THE STFs have adopted a three-pronged strategy to catch Veerappan "systematically": comb the forests; interact more closely with the tribal people and others who inhabit the forest and the peripheral villages; and set up more STF camps, most of them inside the jungles.

Since the area where Veerappan is thought to operate in currently is quite large - over 6,000 sq km of deciduous forests, most of them reserve forests with ravines, river systems, peaks and valleys, and stretch from Tamil Nadu's Hogenekal in the east through M.M. Hills, Bandipur and Biligiri Ranga Hills in Karnataka up to the Nilgiri ranges in the west - the key to pinpointing Veerappan's whereabouts lie in strengthening the intelligence network.

It is with this idea in mind that the STF has begun to woo the tribal people and residents of the villages in the area. However, unlike what it did in the past, it is not only offering money to the people but trying to address their day-to-day problems. An STF officer said: "The aim is to interact with them and win their confidence. When we meet them we do not straightaway pose the question 'where is Veerappan', but rather ask what their difficulties are and then try to solve them as best as we can."

Since the operations restarted on the night of June 28, teams of STF personnel have interacted "qualitatively with villagers from nearly all the 206 mother (main) villages" and studied their problems. The problems mainly pertain to lack of civic facilities such as inadequate availability of water and sporadic supply of electricity; dearth of teachers in local schools; non-issuance of ration cards; difficulty in getting permission to gather minor forest produce; and paucity of medical aid and medicines. The STFs have divided these into immediate, short-term and long-term ones. While the immediate problems are those that can be rectified by the STF, the short-term and long-term ones require the intervention of various government departments.
However, the tribal people and other residents of the M.M. Hills and Thalamalai, Bargur and Kadambur forests are sceptical of the "get-friendly" moves. Nearly five months of the exercise has also proved that people are reluctant to come forward with information on Veerappan. The common refrain this correspondent came across was that they had no time to think of Veerappan, and that the STFs would never catch him.

The get-friendly move suffered a jolt when on October 18 Rani, a villager from the Kadambur forest, complained that a Tamil Nadu STF Inspector attached to the STF's Kadambur camp, Rajarajan, molested her on October 16. Earlier, the STF had taken in for interrogation Basavaraj, a villager from the Kadambur forests, on the suspicion that he was helping the Veerappan gang. Basavaraj is the brother of Anandraj, Rani's husband. According to police sources, when Basavaraj failed to return to his village, Rani was coaxed by Shankar, an activist who works among the tribal people, to lodge a false complaint. The police also claimed that during an inquiry conducted by the Kadambur Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in the presence of the villagers, Rani had confessed that she had made a false complaint. However Rani later gave a fresh complaint to the DSP, Satyamangalam. An inquiry into the charges was conducted by a revenue official and the report is pending with the Tamil Nadu government.

Meanwhile, in order to strengthen the intelligence gathering network and put 'pressure' on the local police, several police stations in Tamil Nadu, located in the vicinity of areas frequented by Veerappan, have been brought under the direct control of the STF. These police stations include those at Bhavani, Andiyur, Satyamangalam, Bhavanisagar, Vellitirupur, Talawadi and Hasanur. For more effective combing operations the core area has been divided into 12 sectors and all these are searched simultaneously on a daily basis with around 70 to 80 STF personnel operating out of camps in the jungle and doing shifts of 20 to 25 days in each sector.

The joint combing operations have been described as an effort to give confidence to the STFs and familiarise themselves with the terrain on both sides of the border. From October 30, the joint combing has been extended to Sultan Bathery, Bergi, Bandipur, Moyar and other areas. Informed sources said that joint combing is the only answer since information pertaining to Veerappan is not coming through. Moreover, the STFs have placed seven platoons of 26 men each in the Bandipur, Maddur, Gopalswamybetta and Moyar regions.

On October 28, a meeting of senior officers of the STF decided to renew the joint combing operations. The idea is "to sanitise and then dominate the forests and squeeze the gang into a corner from where it could be engaged in an encounter". Said an officer: "We will get him in under three months." Added another: "An intelligence breakthrough is the key. Once we have that we are sure of catching him." However, the effectiveness of the combing has come in for criticism. Many people say that it is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. But equally true is the fact that there is no alternative strategy available to the STFs.

Given the record of the STFs, the criticism is not unjustified. In late January 2001, the Tamil Nadu STF got information that Veerappan and his gang had barged into the house of a tribal family in the Chemmanthimalai forest on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border and demanded that a meal be cooked for them. But by the time the Tamil Nadu STF top brass sent a team to the spot, three to four hours had elapsed and Veerappan had left the place, still unaware that the police knew about his movements. (Veerappan was on the downslopes 2 km away from the police party.) Two days after the incident, an intelligence gathering party of the Tamil Nadu STF accidentally came across the brigand and his gang. According to personnel who were present at that confrontation, Veerappan beckoned a member of the STF party thinking that he belonged to a group of wood cutters. The constable, who had his AK-47 camouflaged in a gunny bag, panicked and shot wildly in the air, and the magazine got emptied in one burst.

In November 1998 Veerappan was sighted "face to face at a distance of 150 metres" by the Karnataka STF, but he slipped away. In late January 1999, a suspected hideout of Veerappan, at Needipuram in the Kolathur reserve forests, close to Mettur dam, was raided. However, Veerappan, who is equipped with night vision binoculars, sensed the movement of STF personnel at around 3 a.m. and escaped.

The factors that have prevented the STFs from catching the brigand are simple, yet unsurmountable. His excellent knowledge of the terrain, the support (either out of fear or out of sympathy) of the residents of the 200-odd villages (populated in sizable numbers by people belonging to Veerappan's Pada- yachi/Vanniyar community) on the periphery of the forests where he operates, support from tribal people in the forests and from locally influential politicians, the lack of long-term, sustained and coordinated efforts by successive governments both in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and in recent times support from members of extremist organisation such as the TNLA and the Tamil Nadu Retrieval Force, have all added to Veerappan's luck. He has eluded the BSF, the Karnataka STF, which has been looking for him since 1993, and the Tamil Nadu STF, which has been deployed almost continuously since 1995.

Veerappan's periodic attempts at taking hostages, chiefly granite quarry owners and forest personnel, have also proved lucrative. They have not only brought him much-needed respite when he was cornered by the police but also a bounty with which he could buy himself friends. While several police officers advocated sustained combing operations, other people felt that the anti-Veerappan operations should be stopped considering the amount of time and money spent on them. On the other hand, sympathisers of Veerappan, such as Tamil Nationalist Movement leader P. Nedumaran and Kolathur Mani (both had negotiated with Veerappan in the aftermath of Rajkumar's abduction) have made no bones about their opposition to any action against Veerappan. Both have been demanding amnesty for the brigand. They also expressed their willingness to negotiate with the brigand on behalf of the two State governments. But will the two government agree? More important, will Veerappan bite?

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